Open your eyes: 2nd PCS  

By Russ Cooper

(From left) History professor Shannon McSheffrey, studio arts professor Lynn Hughes, communication studies professors Tim Shwab and Yasmin Jiwani during the PCS evening session, I’ll Be Watching You: Can We Reconcile Privacy and Security? Magnifying glass

(From left) History professor Shannon McSheffrey, studio arts professor Lynn Hughes, communication studies professors Tim Shwab and Yasmin Jiwani during the PCS evening session, I’ll Be Watching You: Can We Reconcile Privacy and Security?

Ask Nisha Goiygupta, grade 11 student from Centennial Regional High School, how she feels about safety online after attending the second President’s Conference.
“I should really just burn my hard drive.”

Goiygupta had just exited the conference’s morning session where Institute for Information Systems Engineering’s Mourad Debabbi gave a chilling description of how nefarious hackers can exploit your every move online. Whether considering how they can secretly harvest information to steal your identity or use your computer to spread a virus, it was obvious Goiygupta’s sense of security and privacy had changed.

She was not alone. Goiygupta was one of more than 700 people attending Every Breath You Take: Surveillance, Security and the End of Privacy who left gasping from what they’d heard from a few of Concordia’s finest researchers and independent experts.

Department of Communication Studies Professor Yasmin Jiwani, a presenter at the second President's Conference, talks about the tension between privacy rights and security threats in the context of race and gender. For more interviews and to watch the conference, check out the President's Conference website.

For the second time in eight months, the President’s Conference brought researchers, community members and students — high school to PhD — together in the D.B. Clarke Theatre on Nov. 4 to take a close look at an issue deeply impacting our everyday lives.

From computer science and software engineering professor Ching Y. Suen’s science behind handwriting recognition, to chemistry and biochemistry professor John Capobianco’s explanation of the potential for nanotechnology to improve public safety and health, to the historical context of surveillance provided by history professor Shannon McSheffrey, the conference provided a unique forum for varying perspectives from members of all four Faculties and to pose some pointed questions.

“We tend to think it’s privacy versus security. […] But in academic research, the two are linked and want to be balanced,” said communication studies professor Kim Sawchuk, speaking at the afternoon session. “We need a better understanding of these terms and laws that oversee us. I think the reason we’re here is understanding the questions we need to ask.”

Building on the success of the first conference in April, Understanding Desire: The Addicted Network, this fall’s edition again welcomed hundreds of students from high schools and CEGEPs. Returning were students from Trafalgar School for Girls and Centennial Regional High School. Participating online, via webcast and Google video chat, were students from Chambly Academy in St. Lambert, CEGEP @ Distance and Marianopolis College.

As well, organizers virtually connected with students from Collège Edouard Montpetit and Stafford Middle School from Plattsburgh, N.Y. — the first time French-language and American schools have participated. Prior to the conference, organizers arranged for a large amount of theme-related information to be listed on the conference’s website for teachers to incorporate into their curriculums.
Another returning partner was the team from the Mountain Lake, New York branch of PBS, who is planning to package both conferences into a two-hour, two-part lecture series.

“When we first talked to Concordia about being here, about a partnership, we were really excited about our proximity to the huge number of scholars,” said Colin Powers, Mountain Lake’s Director of Production and Programming. “Concordia has this vast scholastic base that is a perfect fit for PBS’ audience. This is stuff we all want to hear, regardless of what side of the border we’re on.”

Mountain Lake PBS serves northern New York, eastern Vermont and the entire province of Quebec.

“The theme and the information brought forth truly resonated with the audience and I include myself in there,” said Vice-Provost, Teaching and Learning Ollivier Dyens, one of the conference’s organizers. “Right after the conference, I went out and bought an updated anti-virus for my computer.”

Dyens says the day went off without a hitch, and he’s quick to deflect any praise away from himself and onto the organizing committee and the technical crew, who, “were amazing from start to finish. It wouldn’t have been possible to do this without them.”

The conference was also one of the first events of Les Journées du Savoir, a four-day scholarly program facilitated by Conférence des recteurs et des principaux des universités du Québec (CREPUQ). From Nov. 4 to 7, more than 50 activities took place at 16 Quebec universities, to demonstrate the importance of Quebec’s universities on everyday life.

Plans for the next in the President’s Conference Series are currently being discussed. Dyens states a conference surrounding the issue of human rights is being planned for the Congress of the Humanities and Social Sciences, here at Concordia in spring 2010. A fourth conference, on sustainability is being considered for fall.

Watch the webcasts as well as interviews with researchers online.


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